March 27, 2007

Gemini Max

Ben Shalom’s Thesis Uses Full Palette of Digital Animation Tools

By James Tella

Writer/director/animator Shalom on the set.
While the movies have often brought women searching for Mr. Right to comedic or terrifying heights, Animation M.F.A. graduate student Ben Shalom has mixed his imagination with high end animation software and digital arts science to take the familiar scenario to new levels of animated proportions. Using a broad array of professional software available through the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts, Shalom’s thesis film, Gemini Max & The Glowing Goddess shows how the intricacy of mixed media can make storytelling take off.

Working with the producing team of M.F.A. production third year Joe Tamas and Sam Yousefian ’05, and Nicola Marsh’06 as director of photography, Shalom, who graduates this May, used software including Apple Shake for compositing, the 3D applications Maya w/ Mental Ray & Softimage, and animation programs Toon Boom Studio, Illusion, Mirage and a full Adobe Suite to create a film with “crazy special effects,” including mechanical giants, winged Goddesses, mini-brains, and cartoon cloud fights. Now in postproduction with a release scheduled for this summer, Gemini Max was shot entirely on greenscreen at the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts in 2006 using Sony HD & HDV cameras. 

“I like to call it a visual effects comedy,” said Shalom about his film that follows the adventures of a woman in love with twin brothers—one a billionaire and the other a superhero.
Before and after.
“I wanted something sexy and edgy that spoofed modern relationships

 and allowed for a highly stylized Pop Art fantasy world.” 

One of the most helpful pieces of software Shalom used for his film was Muster render farm, which allowed the animator to render his 3d scenes on over 30 different computers with the click of a button.

  “Overnight, I was able to execute highly complex scenes created in Maya and have them ready the next day,” added Shalom. “It was just awesome and a huge time saver in terms of post-production.

“I love animation, and I knew I wanted to work with live actors so I combined the two,” said the writer/director/animator whose credits the legendary director Billy Wilder as his greatest influence. Studying video/film art, design, and visual effects as an undergrad at California State University Northridge, Shalom’s parents encouraged him to further pursue his education and USC was his school of choice.
A scene from the clip during the filming in front of the greenscreen.

Although Shalom referred to his storyboards during the filming of the 15-minute short, there was still a large amount of improvisation during the production, which took six days to shoot, including one day dedicated to wire stunts. With the budget secured through personal and private investors, Shalom received a scholarship from the school’s Jackie Oakie Scholarship Fund. The money will be applied towards Gemini’s score, which he added, will be “diverse, eclectic and reference pop culture.”

“This has been a huge learning experience for me in terms of applying new software and having to build a narrative with absolutely no backgrounds and making it work as a story,” Shalom said with a nod toward the Hench faculty including his thesis mentors Mar Elepano, Kathy Smith, Christine Panushka and Richard Weinberg. 

The crazy special effects include
mechanical giants.
“The whole process gives you an insight into how all the technology at the school is helping young directors with a small crew and budget to create mainstream films,” added Shalom, who juggles his animation workload with his position directing artist to artist video segments for Myspace. When asked how the film’s final touches are progressing, Shalom’s answer could be applied toward his outlook on his future as well as to his thesis film.  

“I’m pleased and satisfied,” he laughed. “But I’m not finished yet.”